Christopher and Helen, our new expatriate friends,
meet us at their favorite winery
where they fill their plastic jerry cans from hoses
exactly like the ones at gas stations,
as though they were planning to go back home to Aix
and treat their lawnmower to a nice red.
Instead, they take us in their forest green Peugeot
to the home of their old friend Brigitte
in a village at the foot of Mont Ventoux—
actually, not a village, Brigitte corrects me,
but “un hameau,” a hamlet. The French
are exacting about such distinctions, but Brigitte
has a kind, mischievous smile. Back in the car,
we tear along a series of rutted, stony roads
that web the mountainside, with Brigitte
directing Christopher, “à droite, à gauche, encore à gauche,”
until we come to a grove of pines, cedars, and oaks,
where she says the mushrooms are hidden.
We fan out under the trees, searching the slope,
while Brigitte, looking elfin in her orange hoodie,
waves a stick like a wand, pokes at the dried pine needles
or the dead leaves under the wild boxwood bushes,
and sings, “I think there are some over here,”
like a mother leading her toddlers toward the Easter eggs.
We laugh and follow after her, cutting the stems
with a tarnished knife she lends us, warning
“Faites attention,” because the blade is sharp.
And gradually we fill our plastic shopping bags
with gnarled orange caps, stained green,
which, much later, back in the States, I learn
are called Lactarius deliciosus or
orange-latex milky, like a shade of paint,
the field guide commenting “edible, although
not as good as the name deliciosus suggests”—
but we already suspect that (they look awful),
and we will later unload most of ours on
Christopher and Helen who clearly think of them
as a delicacy… but right now we’re
having fun just hunting for them
among the sunspots on the forest floor,
filling our bags, and shouting through the trees
to one another, the whole afternoon gathering
into the giddy moment that Brigitte keeps
calling us back to—and it’s delicious.
Copyright © 2017 by Jeffrey Harrison. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 3, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
About this Poem
“This poem tries to enact the communal exhilaration of a day spent with new friends in the south of France. It felt as if we were a family for one day, and as the foreign visitors being taken on an expedition to a secret mushroom-gathering spot, my wife and I naturally took on the role of the children. I was recently reminded of Philip Larkin’s idea of poems as acts of preservation, and I think I was moved to write this poem because I felt there was something special I wanted to hold on to. Like all poems, this one takes on its own shape, language, and metaphors that do not correspond exactly to the day, but hopefully help to preserve some part of it.”
Jeffrey Harrison is the author of Into Daylight (Tupelo Press, 2014) and five other books of poetry. He lives in Dover, Massachusetts.
Date Published: 2017-02-03
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/mushrooming